Coping with technology and the modern media

The question arises often: How does the media shape politics? Does the media, as a vehicle for information, affect the opinions of its audience? Can information ever be objective when it is filtered according to the judged relevance and the available amount of the medium (air time, print space, etc.), and can the media even affect the outcome of an election, as has been recently discussed ad nauseum?

Nowadays, with news channels being labeled "right" and "left," it seems that the media have come to be widely seen as biased. In turn, the way the media are labeled "right" or "left" depends on the audience’s own political leanings. The image transmitted is no longer accepted as reality. Rather, it is perceived as a created reality that the audience engages with and challenges, accepts or outright rejects. The problem is that the supposed objectivity of the media has become a mirror for the way people identify (or not) with the perceived reality.

The idea of "media" itself has become politicized.

It seems that ultimately the question is not whether we can reach the illusionary grail of objectivity. Nor is it whether we can study and precisely quantify how the media affect the public’s opinion. Rather, it is whether the public has a forum where disinformation can be dispelled, opinions discussed, ideas challenged. For, to paraphrase William Blake, progress depends on oppositions. Rather than thinking of the public as an entity "acted on" by the media, it seems worthy to examine how the public is able to react.

Technology’s presence in almost all aspects of our lives provides the means for media to influence us. The internet is also a double-edged sword. It has its own idea of "objectivity," as reliable information is mixed with less reliable, sometimes within the same source. In terms of advertising, it is also no more "pure" than the billboard-framed streets, as ads have infiltrated almost every corner of the internet. (While pop-up blockers multiply in turn to help combat this, unfortunately there is not yet a way to block out the view of billboards in our cities).

Nonetheless, despite all the cons, and the lingering phobia that technology signals the end of human empathy, the internet seems to increasingly be a medium that individuals utilize to learn and discuss. My own grandparents – who were once unfamiliar with email, digital photography and the like – have taken to learning computer skills. Not so that they can increase their salaries, like many younger people, but rather so that they can reach the world even from their remote Northern California coastal cabin.

There are times when the Luddite deep down in me laments that we no longer live in a kind of barely touched nature without the dependence on technology. Yet, when it comes down to it, we have made the choice as a society to eat that proverbial apple. While technology negatively complicates existence in some ways, it improves it in others.

Internet technology has the ability to help us increase our knowledge (online journals and classrooms), express ourselves (digital design, online film festivals and art galleries), and discuss current events. The availability of internet service in public libraries and internet caf퀌�s has further opened up the world of technological discourse to those who cannot afford their own access. The fact that journals, discussions, newsletters and so forth can be created online means less paper waste, so there is even an environmentally friendly aspect.

It seems like we should not be seeing technology – or the media – as something acting on us, invading our lives, but rather as a tool that can be used to react to the world, politics and finally the medium itself.

Carolyn Duncan can be reached at
[email protected]